Friday, January 28, 2011

Does London 2012's Logo give you epilepsy?

Probably not. But it is freaking me out. It's basically an optical illusion that you have to stare at for a while.


Yes, it is freaky as all get out.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jesse Owens and Hitler

As mentioned previously, I can read your mind. Or rather, Google can read your mind, and then gives me your data. Thus, I can tell you that by far the most common search term that lands people on this little piece of bloguette* is "jesse owens and hitler." Mostly because of this picture:

I feel like I owe it to Jesse Owens to tell his story. As always, I owe Hitler nothing.

What makes the story of Hitler and Jesse Owens so resonant? Well, let's get a bit of context.

1936: A little background

1936 was not JUST the year Peter and the Wolf debuted in Moscow. Hitler, who had been elected in 1933, was quickly turning Nazi Germany into a force to be reckoned with. He had rejected the Treaty of Versailles and had begun to re-arm. Nazi Germany took over the Saar, a territory governed by the League of Nations, in 1935.

On March 7, 1936 Germany reoccupied the Rhineland.

On August 1, the Games of the XI Olympiad opened in Berlin.

Hitler and the Nazis only allowed members of the Aryan race to compete in the games.

America, knowing better (but, really, not that much better) chose our best athletes, including Jesse Owens. As an athlete at Ohio State, Jesse Owens had proven his incredible athletic prowess. At one period of 45 minutes in 1935, Owens broke three world records and tied a fourth (some sources say he may have also broken the fourth, but still).

Can you imagine breaking an average of one world record every fifteen minutes? Incredible.

The 1930s was not a decade made up only of fun and sports, however. It was the decade of the Great Depression, and the United States was a shockingly prejudiced nation. Coming out of the 1920s, the KKK's numbers were as high as they'd ever been. Segregation was common and Jim Crow laws were in full effect throughout the South.

Jesse Owens was the grandson of slaves and grew up sharecropping. And he was faster than anyone.

The 1936 Olympics: A Whole Lotta Nazis

 In 1931-- a year before the Nazis began to rise to power and two years before Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany-- only two cities bid for the 1936 Olympics: Barcelona and Berlin. Unlike other bidding wars, this only lasted one round. Berlin basically beat Barcelona to a pulp.** After the first round was counted, Berlin had 43 votes to Barcelona's 16. The Olympics were going to Germany!

Here's where the spoilsport action begins.

The Reichssportf├╝hrer (translated it means the head of the Reich's sports ministry, but it just sounds sinister) decided that the Olympics in specific and sports in general would be a perfect way to "weed out the weak, Jewish, and other undesirables."

The Nazis decided to go all out. As previously discussed, the 1936 Olympics began many of our proudest modern Olympic traditions, like the torch relay and vandalizing ancient Greek artifacts. After all, this would be an incredibly public demonstration of a resurgent German power. Or so he thought?

Hitler and Jesse Owens:

Here's the story that everyone likes to tell: Jesse Owens won the gold medal for the 100m sprint, the long jump, the 200m sprint, and the 4 x 100m relay. And Hitler flat out refused to shake his hand because he was black.

This is one of those stories that's true in that everyone believes it, it makes narrative sense, and it sums up the general emotions of the time in a concise way. It's not true, per se, in terms of what actually happened.

On the first day of the ceremonies, Hitler made a special effort to congratulate all the German gold medalists. The IOC decided that his congratulations were outside the bounds of good sportsmanship and showed favoritism. Hitler either had to congratulate everyone or congratulate no one. 

He chose no one.

FDR: Also Kind of a Spoilsport

Did Hitler snub Jesse Owens? The only answer here is "sorta." Given the chance, he surely would have snubbed Jesse Owens, but he also would have snubbed every other non-German athlete. In his memoirs Inside the Third Reich, Albert Speer wrote:
"Each of the German victories, and there were a surprising number of these, made him happy, but he was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs by the marvelous colored American runner, Jesse Owens. People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive, Hitler said with a shrug; their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games."
That said, Hitler never snubbed Jesse Owens to his face. The President of the United States, though, that's a different story.

In Owens's own words: "Hitler didn't snub me—it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram."

The story of the 1936 Olympics is without a doubt mostly about Hitler and the Nazis. But Jesse Owens's story is more complicated. It gets to the very roots of American discrimination in the 20th Century. And it's a much harder story to tell than the story of Hitler refusing to shake Owens's hand.

It might just be more important. Alas, I am out of time and attention span.


*Get it? Like a baguette, only in blog form? No? Hm.
**Which, in retrospect, kind of reads like foreshadowing.

Read more!!
And crack a dang book!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wenlock and Mandeville: A whole lotta WTF.

At first, when confronted with the sight of the 2012 London Olympic mascots, I had only one thought. "Oh my good sweet bippy," I said (mostly because Emily's office has an obscenity filter), "they're giving Izzy a RUN for his MONEY." Here, have a picture:


People, if I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times. This is what happens when you allow marketing firms to make your mascot decisions for you. 

From the Wikipedia article about them:

The Mascots are the world's first customisable mascots. They were formed from the last two drops of steel poured in a Bolton Steelworks to form the final girder of the 2012 stadium. Their magical skins are highly polished steel allowing them to change to relect the personality and appearances of the people they meet.
So what I'm hearing is that London 2012 is employing SHAPESHIFTERS with tax payer money. Sure, it's all well and good when they're shapeshifting into the Union Jack, but what happens when one of them steals your identity and your family away from you? I don't know if there's an applicable X-Files episode about this, but dang it there should be.

Let's return to the Wikipedia description for a moment:
They have cameras for eyes, taxi headlights, and Wenlock has friendship bracelets in the colour of Olympic rings whereas Mandeville has a pink stopwatch which symbolises that you can always do better, On the watch reads 0:20:12.
...Cameras for eyes? Seriously? I thought one of the greatest controversies in London in the past decade has been the use of CCTV cameras. This is a main topic for Banksy, one of the world's most recognized street artists. And they're HIGHLIGHTING it with the design of their mascots?

"Sure, come to the 2012 Olympic Games!" Wenlock and Mandeville seem to be saying. "We'll be watching you!"

And the rings as friendship bracelets.... just seem a little familiar to someone like me, who has, I admit, spent an unreasonable amount of time contemplating the meaning of Izzy's tail.

His eyes! His eyes are made of stars!

And I haven't even begun to talk about their origin story. Here's a link to a youtube video, but just in case you don't want to spend four minutes watching it, I'll give you the quick and dirty:


Voice over: "A great rainbow arcs over Barton and down onto a great steelworks where they're finishing the last girder for the Olympic Stadium."

It's the last day at the plant for George, who signs his name on the final girder and then takes two steel blobs and puts them in his pockets. He goes home, where his grandchildren and awkwardly buxom wife are waiting for him with cake.

That night, he turns the steel blobs into dolls or something. And then he gives them to his children like the lamest toys ever. The children run upstairs with their new toys, place them in the window, and then a RAINBOW comes and gives the blobs life. They frolic, posing like Usain Bolt and chirping oddly the whole time.

Voice Over guy returns: "Then suddenly, the RAINBOW is back. Wenlock and Mandeville know it's time to go, their journey is just beginning. So many adventures to have. So many people to tell. But they will meet again. In London. In 2012. You'll be there. They'll be there. The whole WORLD will be there."

So... the gist of this seems to be that London just released this menace on the world. That last line seems really threatening to me. "The whole WORLD will be there, Wenlock and Mandeville will SEE TO THAT." Thanks, London. Thanks a lot.

From Wikipedia again:
In other quarters their design has been greeted with some disdain. One columnist theorized that the pair were the product of a "drunken one-night stand between a Teletubby and a Dalek".[8] Others have compared the mascots to Izzy, the mascot of the 1996 Summer Olympics, another critically panned mascot.[9] However it has been reported that children of the target audience (5 to 15 years) find the duo enjoyable.[10]

Terrifying? Or enjoyable? You decide.